January 31, 2008 1 Comment
I am supporting Barack Obama for President.
What are his transportation policies?
The first thing to note is that Obama’s campaign does not have a written statement devoted to transportation, clearly few people vote for President on transportation issues. So his positions need to be gleaned from a variety of sources.
From his website:
“Improve Transportation Access to Jobs: As president, Obama will work to ensure that low-income Americans have transportation access to jobs. Obama will double the federal Jobs Access and Reverse Commute program to ensure that additional federal public transportation dollars flow to the highest-need communities and that urban planning initiatives take this aspect of transportation policy into account.”
Given that there are federal public transportation dollars to be allocated, they should go to places with the highest need. Far too many public transportation dollars are spent trying to attract choice riders rather than better serving those who actually rely on the system. Serving reverse commutes with public transportation is quite difficult (you are going to very dispersed destinations, generally not the most easily served areas by transit). If there are jobs going unfilled in the suburbs with unemployed workers living elsewhere, there is a spatial mismatch. There may also be a salary mismatch. Transportation is one solution, others include changing locations of origins and destinations, and changing the skill levels (human capital) of the workers, or the skills required and salaries provided on the other end.
Obama has a very progressive space policy supporting continued exploration and expansion of scientific research. Space is important for the long term future. Eventually (and I am talking really long term), we may need to leave the planet. (Not even because we destroyed it through irresponsible human behavior (environmental catastrophe, nuclear war, though that may accelerate the day). Space exploration is a very expensive endeavor, with a possible benefit for a low probability (at least short term) but potentially very dangerous outcome (e.g. large asteroid crashing into the earth, or the sun going supernova). In addition to all of the scientific benefits, it is about ensuring flexibility and keeping options open.
Obama adopted most of the Democrat positions on energy policy. While Obama supports cap-and-trade as opposed to a carbon tax (i.e. regulation of CO2 emissions via quotas rather than taxes), he at least acknowledges there will be costs associated with it. For a discussion see Greg Mankiw’s Blog. For a variety of reasons, I believe carbon taxes are more efficient, they give the market the right incentive, without establishing arbitrary property rights in pollution, and without specifying how carbon emissions be reduced, either carbon tax or the more burdensome cap-and-trade is an improvement over the current system giving a free ride to polluters.
Obama also has most of the “smart growth” positions on local transportation (see Streetsblog). It is a bit prescriptive and top-down in my view, as well as focusing on lots of micro-issues that divert attention from big policy shifts that could significantly affect transportation or environmental outcomes (among them real road pricing, appropriate carbon taxes, and decentralized decision-making and true federalism).
Selecting a President is not about rationally deciding which collection of written policies most closely matches your own preferences, but rather about how you believe an individual will react to events that emerge, and how they can shape those events, and provide leadership to shape people’s reactions to them in a positive direction. Understanding how candidates stand on transportation policy is an interesting indicator of how they may act and react to events. Politics is about matching the ideal with the possible, I am not a politician so my view of the possible is not shaped by the hall of mirrors that constitute the state houses and government buildings throughout the country. However, I have found little evidence that experience is a virtue. Experience hardens the mind, and makes it more difficult to think in new ways. We need leaders who are open to ideas, not leaders who recoil at them.